I was freezing as the wind and cold cut through my gloves and jacket. Snipers were all around me. However, it didn’t matter. I had goose bumps and shared the same space as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Welcome to the Army Navy football game.
Last year, I had the chance to experience this game in person. Sitting in the first row of FedEx Field just outside of Washington DC, I could see the sweat dripping (or maybe they were icicles) off the Army players as they warmed up before the game.
On the field, the Army Navy football rivalry is one of the most intense in all of college football. Before the game, after the game, and in life, you may not find two opponents who respect and help each other more.
Regardless of how you feel about military or war, there is a special respect and awe when it comes to the football players at West Point and the Naval Academy. The Army Navy football game, this rivalry, and these kids have a story you need to experience.
Army Navy football history
Going into the 2012 game, Navy leads Army in the series 56-49-7 in the all time series. However, this game is more than just a winning team. Along with Air Force, the teams play each other for the Commanders-in-Chief trophy.
The game began in 1890 as the two schools wanted to establish bragging rights. Today, it’s become one of the most iconic, respected games in football history.
Army and Navy have enjoyed football success in the past. Both have won college football national championships. However, military service has limited most of the participants from going on to NFL careers. Navy’s Roger Staubach and Napoleon McCallum saw success in the NFL as well as Navy basketball player David Robinson.
However, this game really isn’t about a player or team as much as it is the institutions. Since 1963, the United States Military Academy (aka West Point or Army) and the United States Naval Academy have entered this match up with winning records twice (1996 and 2010).
However, the Army Navy football game is one where you can truly throw the records out the window.
Life at a military service academy
Last year, I had the chance to tour the US Naval Academy and was on hand for the annual game ball run leading up to the Army Navy football game. Annapolis felt like home as I watched a sea of black uniforms and white hats pumped up by the 13th company dressed in fatigues carrying a football.
However, life at both academies isn’t easy. Students (or Cadets at Army, Midshipman at Navy) wake up at 5 or 6 am, make their beds, eat breakfast, and have every minute of their day structured. Every student participates in a sport, has a few hours of study hall, and goes to bed each night around midnight.
College students at these academies work harder, sacrifice, and give more than any college student in the country.
Army Navy football traditions
A few hours before the game, I stand in line for the metal detector at FedEx Field. With snipers on the roof, all precautions are taken with the President Barack Obama at the game.
Arriving three hours early, I spot the CBS crew a couple of sections over from me and walk over to listen to the pre-game conversation. I chatted with former Naval Academy and West Point graduates working in the highest levels of government (including the Pentagon).
Two hours before game time, the members of each academy march onto the field before taking their respective places in the stands. Watching every Cadet and Midshipman march onto the field, I stood with respect and awe. I loved college but couldn’t do what they do. Nor did I serve our country overseas in the military.
While there isn’t a lot of pageantry as each academy comes on the field, watching their faces and thinking of their sacrifices gave me time to reflect. This may only be a football game but to them, this is their chance to let their hair down (whatever hair they still have on their heads).
As black and gray dress coats fill the stands, the President and Vice President walk onto the field for the pre-game ceremonies. For the first time in history, the Army Navy football game is taking place in the nation’s capital, Washington DC.
Throughout 60 minutes of football, they pound each other, run, tackle, and play for pride, academy, and bragging rights. After the football game, they stand side by side on the field and around the world supporting and fighting for the USA.
At the end of each game, both teams stand at the respective end zones as the band plays the alma mater for each school. While both schools want to win, there may not be a more respected rivalry on and off the field than the Army Navy football game.
Travel Tips for the Army Navy football game
If you want to check out an Army Navy football game, here are a few travel tips and game day information for this college football rivalry.
Where: Last year was the first time the game was ever played near the nation’s capital. Now the game returns to its normal location, Philadelphia, through 2015.
When: This game gets a day all to itself – the second Saturday in December. It’s the only regular season college football game played that day. Dress warmly as the games are often cold in the northeast.
Travel: In early and mid December, you can find some cheap flights to Philadelphia for the game as this is the offseason travel period. For flight, hotel, and car packages, find deals on Expedia.
Tickets: My seat on the first row cost me $240 two weeks prior to the game. Find tickets on StubHub or eBay a few weeks before the game up until game time for the best deals with prices as low as $50.
Game day Information: The Army Navy football game is played every year at 2:30 pm EST so arrive early, talk to fans, and watch the Cadets and Midshipman march onto the field. Before you go to the game, watch the Army Navy spirit videos or search for them on YouTube (search Army Navy spirit spots). These are entertaining, hilarious, and well done. Stick around after the game as Army and Navy pay respects to both schools.
For me, experiencing the Army Navy football game was one of the best college football experiences I’ve ever had. Divided they play but united we all stand for Army and Navy.
For more college football travel guides, check out Expedia’s College Football page and get more stories on college football rivalries ((including Oregon/Oregon State, Oklahoma/Texas, South Carolina/Clemson, and more) and my experiences at college football games and campuses all over the country on the College Football Travel Tour page.